It has been five months since Last Days in the Desert — starring Ewan McGregor as both Jesus and Satan — premiered at Sundance, and the film still does not have a distributor, as far as I know. But it has made the rounds at a few more festivals since then, and this week it came to Edinburgh in McGregor’s native Scotland.
McGregor spoke to reporters about the film in a video you can watch here:
This article from The Herald seems to be taken from the same interview as the video above, but it includes a few bits that were cut from the video:
McGregor said: “It’s a film that I was very passionate about making and I had an extraordinary experience making this movie with Rodrigo Garcia. It’s an artistic movie, it’s got a slow pace, it’s a beautiful film, I think.
“It (the EIFF) is a really perfect place to launch it from.”
The actor admitted that playing such a role was “a little overwhelming”.
He said: “In the process of coming to the role I did quite a lot of reading. I read quite a lot of contemporary books that had been written about Christ, which were less helpful in a way because they’re trying to tell the story of who Jesus really was and maybe discount some of the Bible stories.”
He went on: “It’s not a Biblical film, it’s not a film about Jesus. It’s actually a film about fathers and sons, that’s really what it is.
“Once I started concentrating more on that and concerning myself less about the sort of worries of what people’s expectations are, what people might expect to see, and just started focusing on a man who’s having difficulty communicating with his father then it became easier and maybe more truthful, I hope.”
The Scotsman also quoted part of a 90-minute Q&A with broadcaster Edith Bowman that McGregor did at the film festival:
McGregor, who admitted playing the Devil “came more nautrally,” said: “There was nothing in the film that offended me. I played him with great respect, I hope. I really tried to play the Jesus who people think of as being God’s son. I tried to make it really simple and clear.
“But he has gone out into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights for a reason, and that reason is doubt. He is questioning himself and his purpose.
“I would think a Christian person would imagine that would what Jesus went into the desert for, to reconcile his future, if you like.
“This isn’t a biblical film or a film about Jesus, it’s actually a film about fathers and sons.
“Once I started concentrating more on that and concerning myself less about what people might expect to see and started to focus on a man who is having difficulty communicating with his father it become a lot easier and more truthful.”
Thompson on Hollywood also quoted a bit of that Q&A:
Interviewed on stage by his fellow Scot, the radio and TV presenter Edith Bowman, for a generous 90 minutes at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, McGregor—a dad of four—explained how the script’s beautifully written, poetic descriptions first got him on board, having met its director on holiday.
“I don’t even think [Rodrigo] even mentioned that he had a script that he wanted me to read. But when I got back, I got an email from his producer saying, ‘Rodrigo’s embarrassed, because you met him socially, to present you with the script, but we want to present you with the script.’ And there was some talk about it being a dangerous project, and that I wouldn’t want to do it anyway. Which is a bit of a red rag to a bull: ‘Oh really? I want to do it!’”
Incidentally, I cannot help but be amused by the strong similarities between the first two articles I quoted here. One of them supposedly quotes what McGregor said at the press call, while the other supposedly quotes what he said in front of an audience — but they are so similar, it is tempting to do a bit of “source criticism” on them, to think that these quotes reflect editorial changes to a single original quote.
But of course, McGregor has been promoting this film for so long, he has almost certainly made the same points again and again, and he probably makes them more or less the same way, now, but with slight verbal variations. As with the sayings of McGregor, so with the sayings of Jesus. Let the reader understand.
(And yes, scribes make their own tweaks, too. Just compare the video — which is itself somewhat edited — with the way McGregor is quoted in the first article.)
Here are two more videos of McGregor speaking at the Edinburgh film festival:
In this one, he talks about how his version of Jesus tries to help a family, and how he, McGregor, sometimes felt like the son and sometimes felt like the father:
And here are some excerpts from the Q&A, though they consist of quotes about Star Wars and Moulin Rouge! and the like, and none about Last Days in the Desert:
A few new reviews of the film have popped up, too.
Hannah McGill at The List gives it four stars out of five:
McGregor’s dual role allows him to play to his strengths – open-faced amiability as Yeshua, and glinty mischief as the rather sympathetic Devil figure – and [Ciarán] Hinds is marvellous. The dialogue can at times be more New Age than New Testament, and one unnecessary flourish at the end rather mars the film’s unpretentious simplicity – but the timeless dilemmas are genuinely well-observed, and despite its gentle pace and tenderness, the film packs some emotional shocks.
Steven Neish at Hey U Guys also gives it four out of five stars:
This is Jesus as you’ve never seen him before: angry at his Father, reluctant to get involved in the lives of others, and open to the devil’s counsel. The stakes may be relatively small, the situation rather mundane, but the character of Christ has rarely been more compelling. Patience is a virtue, after all.
Alison Rowat at the Herald also gives it four stars:
The cinematographer is Emmanuel Lubezki, who brings the same brilliant eye to bear on Rodrigo Garcia’s picture as he did with Gravity and Birdman. The desert setting is stunning throughout, and though there is a fair bit of trudging through the sand and gazing towards the horizon to endure at the start, Garcia’s haunting, contemplative picture eventually draws one in and does not let go.
If I come across any more interviews or reviews from Edinburgh, I’ll add them here.